No question that the high point of Comic-Con so far is the Lionsgate/Summit panel to see a trailer for sci-fi “Ender’s Game” (November 1) which is directed by South African director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) and aimed at boys, and first-ever footage from young adult “Divergent” (March 21, 2014, IMAX) which is directed by Neil Burger (“Limitless”) and aimed at the “Twilight” crowd. Casting is strong on both book adaptations for which Summit harbors high hopes of franchise potential. But it’s clear that while the media is aware of Summit’s marketing push on these films, the hordes didn’t pack into Hall H.
This is one of those cases where the marketing is going to have to build the buzz, and the movies will have to deliver.
Of the two, “Divergent” looks like a winner. One, this more recent book was on bestseller lists for 26 months, followed by a sequel, “Insurgent,” that was published last year; a third installment is in the works. Summit knows how to sell to this demo and the elements are attractive indeed. “The Descendants,” which just wrapped three days ago, is set in a much smaller post-cataclysm walled Chicago 100 years in the future and stars Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) as Triss, who has grown up in one of five factions of society based on a quality: Abnegation (selfless), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the intelligent), Dauntless (the brave), and Amity (the peaceful).
For those of you unfamiliar with the books written by Veronica Roth while she was still in college, as a rite of passage to adulthood in this society you have a choice to make: stay in the faction you were raised in and continue see your family and friends, or choose a new one, for which you will have to pass an aptitude test to prove that you qualify. Once you’re in you are committed for life; there’s no going back. “This keeps the society in balance,” Roth said at Thursday’s Hall H panel. “The movie is true to the book and also a surprise,” she added.
Our heroine decides to leave Selfless to become part of Dauntless. “Triss is a real girl who’s forced to find herself,” Woodley said. “She has to rise to the occasion and find the courage to help others around her as well as herself.”
The footage was compelling: it shows her facing the challenge of climbing a trellis to a subway platform, jumping onto a moving train, and leaping off into a seventh story rooftop. (The production built the train and elevated tracks, Burger said, to make it look as real as possible. “She climbed it for real.”) Then she must dive into a hole below–not knowing that a net will break her fall. At the bottom is avery handsome man, Four, played by “Golden Boy” Brit actor Theo James. While he holds the screen, in person he was quite charismatic and commanding. James described himself as “old-fashioned man with a centered sense of the masculine. He’s not afraid to state what he’s afraid of. Everyone’s afraid of something.” The movie is about “choosing who you want to be.”
Summit also lined up a whole gang of impressive young actors–from Maggie Q to Zoe Kravitz and Miles Teller. Judging from the marketing materials a d response, they’re on the right track.
The author of “Ender’s Game” was not on the panel; Lionsgate/Summit is trying to separate themselves from the controversy about Card’s right-wing anti-gay position. Responding to a question from the floor, producer Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”) reiterated “Lionsgate’s support for all LGBT rights. A lot of people worked on the movie, I would hate to see the efforts of all these people terminated by the opinions of one man.” The book is about “empathy and tolerance,” he said.
The marketers haven’t quite nailed the materials for “Ender’s Game.” Based on the 28-year-old Orson Scott Card classic, this one is more familiar to audiences who may have seen a first teaser trailer launched in the spring (below), a new Battle School recruitment video (below) and six new character posters. At the Con they erected an entire “Ender’s Game” pavilion tour of sets and costumes from the movie.
They’re putting the cart ahead of the horse a bit. The materials emphasize the sci-fi VFX and alien spaceship battles, the save-the-world drama of the movie–which I’m sure tests better than the fairly tricky ethical issues of the book. How do you train a kid to be a warrior? What makes a brilliant soldier? How do these boys and girls fight for supremacy? That’s what’s compelling in this story, as Hood said, which “is focused on themes of leadership, empathy, tolerance and self-identity, how you define yourself in a complex world.”
In the movie’s future, aliens destroyed much of the Earth but were vanquished by a legendary International Fleet Commander, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). As the world prepares for the next imminent attack, veteran Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) in the International Military recruits and trains the best and brightest kids at Battle School to find the next Mazer. Brilliant strategist Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is the world’s best hope to lead his soldiers into battle and save the human race.
On the panel with Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld and Hood, who directed from his own adapted screenplay, was ultimate curmudegon Harrison Ford, who has his slow burns down to a comedic routine. He calls himself Ender Wiggins’ “manipulator,” and praised the book for predicting a future military with robot drone capability. (See video below.)
Summit assures that the movie is a faithful adaptation and that much of the material in the movie just isn’t quickly established in a short video piece–they plan to put out more videos online.